To address TB, address social causes, say Pan-American health leaders

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When Dr. Jarbas Barbosa’s father practiced in Brazil decades ago, patients begged him to diagnose them with cancer, rather than tuberculosis. Back then,TB was worse than cancer. Now, Brazil is one of many countries in the Americas that have reached the Millennium Development goal of halving TB incidence, ahead of schedule.

TB clinicians in El Salvador.

TB clinicians in El Salvador.

Barbosa, who is the Secretary for Health Surveillance at the Ministry of Health in Brazil, said at a Pan American Health Organization World TB Day event Friday, that Brazil has been successful in controlling TB because it addresses the social determinants of the disease as well as the health determinants. The government not only provides free TB drugs for everyone, but also provides cash payments to patients who have to miss work due to their TB infection, as part of Brazil’s Bolsa Familiar program.

In addition to addressing the social causes of TB, governments also need to target urban areas, where 80 percent of all Latin American and Caribbean populations live said panelists at the event. With one out of four people in Latin America and the Caribbean living in poverty, the most at-risk people live in the outskirts of cities, where overcrowding, limited access to drinking water and sanitation services, as well as limited access to hospitals and clinics, challenge health said PAHO Director Dr. Carissa Etienne.

With support from USAID, PAHO and the World Health Organization have started a TB control initiative to provide timely diagnosis and treat TB in urban populations. National health authorities coordinate with local authorities to implement health programs as well as carry out education, social protection, and urban development programs, because, as Victor Salcedo Rios, the Mayor of El Agustino in Lima, Peru, emphasized, TB control efforts must address the causes of TB that are not health-related.

The event featured screenings of short documentaries about TB control efforts among different populations in the Americas. Click here to watch a video on increased surveillance work through community outreach in Peru, here to watch a video on TB control efforts among prison populations in El Salvador, and here for a video on TB-HIV co-infection control efforts in Haiti.

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